The accounts of the healing of Naaman and the Ten Lepers reveal to us the miraculous power of God to intervene and change things in our world. People continue to be healed in our own age by the power of God through healings that are miraculous and caused either only, apparently by prayer, or the power of medicine. Perhaps there might also be space for it being about both. In my twenties I was a member of the Healing Ministry Team at my church for six years before moving away to join the religious Community to which I belonged. The call to pray for people remained and it was – and is – something to which I am aware I am still called. I am not alone in this ministry today though; we all share in it each week as we pray the names on our Pew Leaflet of those people who are unwell. Some people have been there a long time as the need to pray for them continues. No-one can ever have enough prayer and, as we sing at Evensong sometimes, ‘The voice of prayer is never silent nor dies the strain of praise away’.
We all need prayer and this is the reality of our life. Life is sometimes messy and it is sometimes painful and, whilst there are amazing miracles that take place like the ones we have heard of today, life isn’t always like that. It wasn’t always like it in the time of the Prophets or in the time of Jesus – and it isn’t always like it now. The miracles of the Bible are recorded because they were just that, miraculous. God worked in these miraculous ways, but people will also have died – through old age, through natural causes, or, alas, at the hands of others. So what exactly are our prayers for? Why do we have to suffer? Why can’t we simply fall asleep and not wake up the next day – making our end peaceful and calm? I have no easy answers I am afraid – and I wrestle with these questions as much as the next person – but I do believe in miracles, I do believe God listens and I do believe God cares.
Let me tell you about Chris. Chris was a member of the Healing Ministry Team to which I belonged back in the 1990s and Chris was lovely. She was beautiful and vivacious – with a crackingly handsome husband and two delightful sons. Chris was first diagnosed with breast cancer in her early thirties and died about eighteen months after it returned when she was in her early forties. Her sons were in their early teens, and her husband was left completely bereft – wondering how to bring up their two sons on his own. Chris joined the Healing Team about five years after her first bout of cancer, and continued to be part of the Team until about three months before her death. Of course we prayed for her healing – the whole church did. Did God answer our prayers for her healing? It took a long time for many to realise it, but yes, God did. Chris died at peace – and this was healing in its most pure form for her. Visiting Chris wasn’t easy, but one always came away feeling thoughtful, with a sense that life – and death – was pared down to a truth and reality in a way that was true gift
This may seem a long way from lepers being healed – but I do think that, at some level, our fear of illness is very bound up with our fear of our own mortality. To a certain extent we probably all grow up thinking we are pretty invincible – if we think about it at all. Naaman will have thought this as he rose to a position of power and authority and realised he had leprosy, and so also will those ten men who pleaded for healing. ‘Our bodies are amazing,’ I often say to people, adding on, ‘until they begin to go wrong.’ When illness strikes, we are often forced into a place of being, or at least feeling, apart from others: not wishing to share our germs, not wanting to be seen in our PJs and, most of all for many of us, not wanting to be seen when we are vulnerable and low. Naaman may well have been fearful of passing on his disease; the lepers had already been cast out – what more could happen to them? Some of us may feel this when we are ill or depressed, anxious or upset about something,
There will be people known to you whose names you carry in your heart as you know something of the difficulty of life with which they live – be it health or wealth or life circumstance. Prayers for the healing of people’s difficulties takes many forms and, whilst many assume prayers for healing are only for the sick or dying, prayers for the many and varied situations in which people find themselves also have their place. We might pray for healing in the life the young person who will have received something from our Harvest giving last Sunday – the young person who was thrown out of their home because their father has found a new partner and ‘there’s no room for them now’. We might pray for healing in the life of the person recently moved into our road who seems to have no one visiting and who rarely goes out yet we see them looking out from behind the net curtains. They might just be a busy-body, but they might also simply be afraid of this new environment.
God’s healing presence changes things – not always in the way we might hope for, long for, or even expect. In all things, hope has its place: hope placed in a God who loves and who cares and who wills for our good. If you notice anything further than the healing of body in the two accounts of healing before us today, let it be this: it is not just the physical healing that is recorded – it is the healing of the spirit too. Naaman returns to Elisha and says, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel.” The Samaritan leper, ‘when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him.’ The hearts of both men were changed – both recognised the work of God. Both wanted God to change their lives – both sought out God’s work for their lives – and God came to them.
God cares. Our bodies and minds are frail and, alas, they will fail: for some of us this might be happening rather quicker than we might like! God cares though. In the midst of it all, God is to be found. God is to be found in the nurse who wipes away our tears. God is to be found in the friend who doesn’t cross the road when they see us coming, embarrassed because they don’t know what to say. God is to be found in the note that is dropped through our door by someone who has seen we are looking a bit tired or frail – and who invites us over for a cup of tea. God is always to be found – but we, like Naaman and like the Samaritan leper – and like Chris – need to look, to seek, to come to God – and also be willing to be found by him.
The invitation from our good and generous, caring and care-ful God is come. Come to me all you who are weary… fearful, ill, tired, lonely… and I will give you rest – in my open, gentle and loving embrace. Come.